The thermometer grazes one hundred at near dusk. I squint into
the heat and walk with a self-preserving pace to the trash bin,
past the native, deer-resistant California lilac I planted some springs ago.
It’s almost fall and the lilac squats stunted, nibbled to three bare sticks.
I spot a lone doe in your yard, still as a taxidermy,
sustained by sparse poisonous shrubs, this golden landscape of
dearth. The hunger in her eyes, her commanding drive to survive,
I translate in my wishful thinking into a reasonable effort,
nothing egregious I hope—Ranch dressing perhaps, not quite
poison, but the way my Persian palate accommodates, happily tolerates
the plastic squeak of julienned bell peppers, croutons in a salad.
Perhaps she rations poison akin to the measured gestures I mete out
still after all these years, to acclimate, address strangers with well-oiled
greetings in lines in coffee shops and farmers markets, beaming
under the shameless sun, in a baseball cap and cut-off shorts.
The truth is you’ll be hard pressed to find fault with me.
Even now, neighbor, as we eye each other askance from across
the road, you itching to run me out, like the pest you would down
for foraging your dry lawn. I’ve grown decorously unselective, pasture
in pure reception, neither preference, nor denial. I imagine I’d be
crowned victor by now, at the ceremony of natural selection, a survivor
peering at you through brown gazelle eyes, virtually colorblind.
Next time a cousin visits and asks where my skin comes from, you’ll find
me embalmed, preserved as a curio. You may point. I’m a precious collector’s
item. But for now, won’t you come in for a drink, neighbor? I’ve minced
the barbed leaves, for want of black wild berries this year, you know
how they’ve shriveled like dark little clenched fists. I’ve snapped the dusty
sticks too from the brier, coarsely ground them into this Blackberry Bramble.
Let us toast and feel the draught rip our throats, hit the same gnawing
spot we share in this scorching twilight; it seems no ordinary drink
will wash away our animosity, each hunching uninsured at home in the heart
of the High Fire Hazard Severity Zone where you stand and brandish your gun,
the American flag leaning across to thrash the air beyond your deck.
The truth is I’ve grown weary of giving you no reason to shoot. What shame
that I too now listen to the breeze as though it rustled through the blue oaks
to spite me. I wish you’d play along, amiable as a tabula rasa, a still-life.
I go through my Monday rituals, fasting to remember the humiliation of hunger,
I pour two drops of bleach on the lid of my fifty-gallon refuse bin to keep
the bears at bay and retreat back inside. Two hours south, Tahoe residents
share their crawl space, what’s called bearbnb. In Paradise, an hour
northeast, the homeless roam like ghosts, the ash refusing to settle.
Here I’ve memorized the profile of a daffodil,
its mouth the dented trumpet of the new day,
the verve of fescue grass too, I know well,
on this, my parcel of barely arable land overrun
with dovefoot. Three seasons ago, I buried
the hyacinth in haste, by the soggy foot
of madrone. Late for a date, squatting in my heels,
I scooped out a pasty gob of clay and pushed the bulb
a good way into the hill. The blush Walmart bloom
had faded, days past Nowruz, and I didn’t have the heart,
now that I owned a plot, to trash a flower. For years,
I’ve neglected to set the table, the hyacinth
my only memento of the seven ‘C’s of haft seen.
The cluster of fragrant stars on the dusty sill,
the dreamy head I prop up with a take-away chopstick,
leans at times into the glass as though lovesick
for a glimpse of the jewel-studded throne
of Jamshid as he tarries on his vernal traverse across
the sky to reassure a swallow. I suppose I must
expect miracles, those shy spots of color that
touched my heart, a year ago today, I looked
out and where I had buried one, stood two crinkled
blooms, one behind the other as the child keeps up
in the taffy-pink new-year dress. They’d come,
the fall leaves of madrone, winter’s debris piled
at their feet, they’d come, though I’d fed none,
nor watered any. This Nowruz, a crowd assembles
here, at the footpath to the house, the mixed spring
garden pack of thirty—daffodils and paperwhites, freesias
conference with a host of blue iris. I drop my bags,
lift, on my knees, the bowed head of a hyacinth to mine,
a chevron of geese overhead ushering in the new year.
Little keeps them apart
but a shade of cyan.
Like a pair of young thighs
in skinny jeans, they press
into each other, impatient
with the lateness of the hour.
Or a pair of lips,
the lower in restless ripples,
To pry sky
from sea, you’ll need
the Egyptian funerary tool, Setep,
for Opening of the Mouth.
The sea will billow
like the blue gorget
of a hummingbird
as the sky spreads,